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Scan Design Program Faculty

Project Descriptions


Description: Neuromodulation, Neural Circuits, and Affective Behavior

Stress and pain-induced behavior is controlled by specific neurotransmitters and their signaling partners in the central and peripheral nervous systems. Many of these signals are conveyed through activation of neuropeptide and monoamine receptor systems. These receptors are seven transmembrane spanning G-protein coupled receptors (GPCR, also called 7 transmembrane receptors) and they engage a variety of signaling cascades following neurotransmitter release and receptor binding.

To expand our knowledge of the inner workings of the brain and to identify treatments for psychiatric diseases, the Bruchas laboratory aims to dissect how GPCR systems function in the contexts of stress, depression, addiction, and pain. We strive for a greater understanding of these receptors in real time, within intact systems, and biologically relevant models of behavior. We utilize pharmacological, optogenetic, genetic, viral, imaging, behavioral, and cutting-edge computational along with bio-engineering approaches to uncover the specific role of GPCRs and their endogenous transmitters within in vivo neural circuits that modulate affective behavior.

Students will have opportunities to learn cutting edge methods in neuroscience. These include optogenetic, pharmacological, behavioral, physiological, brain imaging, computation, biochemistry, and biomedical approaches. Additional responsibilities will be gained as the student works in one of many projects associated with neuromodulation in neural circuits.

Requirements: General Biology and Chemistry a plus. Some neuroscience coursework a bonus, but not required.  Prior laboratory experience a plus, but not required.


Description: In the Dhaka lab, we take a multifaceted approach to understand the molecular, anatomical and developmental basis of pain sensation. Students will employ a wide variety of molecular, genetic, imaging and behavioral approaches to understand how the pain sensation is encoded by the nervous system.

Requirements: Please have completed the Biol 180, 200, 220 series. Laboratory experience is preferred.


Description: Our lab studies the intersection of cannabinoids and opioids with respect to addiction and pain. We use genetic, molecular, and behavioral approaches to ultimately understand if cannabinoids are viable alternatives or adjuncts for pain management. Projects for the summer include behavioral pain tests with these compounds, as well as novel imaging/stimulation of individual neuron activity during pain states.

Requirements: The student should be comfortable working with animals (mice) and will need to take the relevant animal care training as required by IACUC at the University of Washington. Otherwise, there are no requirements.


Description: Headache is a common and potentially debilitating condition in childhood, impacting as many as 1 in 3 children and adolescents. Many factors can contribute to children’s experience of headache and its impact on their daily lives, including psychological distress, activity participation, and family conflict. My research focuses on characterizing psychological and family functioning in youth with recurrent and chronic migraine and tension-type headache, and developing behavioral interventions that meet the treatment needs of youth who have chronic headache conditions and psychosocial comorbidities. Several specific research projects in the area of pediatric headache are available depending on the interests of the student.

Requirements: Enthusiasm about clinical research and an interest in childhood headache; Prior coursework in research methods and/or statistics is helpful but not required.


Description: Children can develop chronic pain from an injury or as a consequence of a disease process. Pain can also be the problem itself without any specific identifiable injury or disease and is an important public health problem, with estimates of chronic pain in almost a quarter of youth worldwide. How people think about pain and how they react when they are in pain influences their adaptation. Biopsychosocial models of chronic pain emphasize the important role of individual psychological factors, social factors, and biological factors in the individual’s pain experience.
Our lab is interested in understanding how pain affects the lives of children and their families and how to prevent and manage pain so that it is not disabling. We study several different populations of children who have pain from surgery, injuries, or from chronic health conditions. Our research has focused on the interrelationships of pain, sleep, psychological, and family factors. We have developed and evaluated cognitive-behavioral interventions to treat pain and to reduce sleep problems. Many of our interventions are delivered through internet or mobile applications to improve access to treatment.
Several projects are available including a study of the role of sleep deficiency in how children and adolescents respond to psychological treatment for chronic pain; a qualitative study of how health care providers view pain in older adolescents and young adults; and a randomized controlled trial in parents who have irritable bowel syndrome. Students can provide assistance with various aspects of data collection, coding, and data management.

Requirements: Enthusiasm and interest in clinical research in pediatric pain management; Completion of a research methods course is very helpful but not required.


Description: Pain increases with advancing age, afflicting half of adults age 65 years and older in the United States. Several factors complicate pain management in older adults, including multimorbidity, polypharmacy, as well as age-associated changes in body composition, hepatic function, and renal function. Further, pain often co-occurs with other activity-limiting symptoms (e.g., depression, insomnia, fatigue) in older adults.

Accordingly, our group conducts clinical and epidemiologic research to better understand pain in older persons and, in turn, we aim to translate these findings into effective treatments. Currently, we are conducting randomized clinical trials to investigate the effects of combining different types of physical exercise (e.g., strength, endurance, and neuromuscular skills training) with cognitive-behavioral health skills training in older adults with chronic musculoskeletal pain. These trials involve the collection of biopsychosocial data ranging from objective measures of physical activity and capacity to quantitative sensory testing of pain processing. Depending on the student’s interests, there are opportunities to conduct research using data from clinical trials or large epidemiologic cohort studies. In addition, students will have the opportunity to help conduct objective assessments of physical performance and sensory processing in older adults.

Requirements: Some coursework in statistics or research methods would be helpful, but is not required.


Description: Tolerance to the analgesic effects opioid agonists is an important clinical problem because persons with pain need escalating doses for relief. High doses can increase the risk of adverse effects including drug addiction, physical dependence, and respiratory depression. We are characterizing the different mechanisms responsible for tolerance and find that different opioid drugs produce tolerance by different mechanisms and different brain regions develop tolerance at different rates. The Summer Project would explore these mechanisms and differences using novel optical sensor tools for brain imaging of opioid responses.

Requirements: coming soon.


Description: The goal of my research is to improve the delivery and quality of care for people with chronic musculoskeletal pain conditions. I mostly focus on back pain in older adults. Chronic musculoskeletal pain is a complex, biopsychosocial health condition, and most of my ongoing research projects involve working with an interdisciplinary team and using large data sets to better understand this complexity from both an individual patient level and a health systems level. We have started a new study on a condition called lumbar spinal stenosis, which is a common cause of back and leg pain and disability among older adults. We are conducting a prospective cohort study of patients at UW and Duke University to develop and evaluate a clinically applicable model to reliably predict long-term function of older patients with this condition. This approach will enable matching these individuals to optimal treatment approaches to provide care that is more effective and of higher-value.

Requirements: Prior experience with basic statistics, data analysis, and statistical software (R, Stata, etc…) is helpful but not required. Familiarity with library resources, such as PubMed, is also beneficial.


Description: This undergraduate research project will examine the role of various neural circuits and cell types in regulating behavioral control of pain experience. The student will work with a senior lab member (postdoc or graduate student) to implement experiments to the aversive components of nociceptor activator.  The student will learn fundamental aspects of mouse behavior and systems neuroscience.

Requirements: A strong interest in neuroscience and previous course work is preferred. Willing to work with mice. Foundational knowledge of molecular biology, neuroscience, genetics, or related discipline. Experience in Python or R with strong quantitative skills is also preferred.